Lebanese judicial authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Iran-backed Iraqi militia group called Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Iran’s Fars News Agency reports. Quoting Lebanese sources, Fars added that the Lebanese Army and General Security Directorate have also ordered all relevant authorities to arrest the Iraqi militia commander if he reenters Lebanon. They allege that Khazali last year had entered Lebanon illegally. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has also called for a travel ban on the Iran-linked militia commander. Last December, Khazali visited the Lebanese-Israeli border and pledged to support Hezbollah in a potential war against Israel in the future – triggering angry reactions from Lebanese officials and concerns in Israel.

According to Fars, the political bureau of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq rejected the allegations and claimed that its leader had acquired all necessary travel documents before traveling to Lebanon. “This action by Lebanon is a political reaction rather than a legal step. Therefore, we have assigned a lawyer to pursue this case, because we are confident that Lebanon’s judicial branch will clarify the truth,” an AAH official said.  

Comment: In early December, a video clip circulating in social media showed  Khazali appearing in military uniform touring the border in southern Lebanon accompanied by Hezbollah’s military officials. AAH is a unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and its forces have also been fighting in Syria under the leadership of Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s Mehr News Agency wrote that Khazali’s trip to Lebanon and tour of the border region “carries important messages” to Israel and regional Arab states, and “confirms that the axis of resistance, from Iran to Syria and Lebanon and Iraq, has taken control of the region.”

Many Lebanese officials denounced Khazali’s trip. Hariri issued a statement, describing it as a “flagrant violation” of Lebanese laws and called for the Iraqi militia leader to be banned from entering Lebanon again in the future.

Khazali’s trip to southern Lebanon was another indication that Iranian-backed Shiite militias from Iraq and across the region would join Hezbollah in any potential war with Israel in the future. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, warned last year that any war launched by Israel against Syria and Lebanon would bring in Shiite fighters from different regional countries, including Iraq and Iran. Harakat al-Nujaba, another Iranian-backed Iraqi militia group fighting in Iraq and Syria, has also declared that it will help Hezbollah liberate the Golan Heights after the fight against ISIS is over.

AAH’s relationship with the Lebanese Hezbollah is more than a decade long. According to the US government accounts, the Lebanese Hezbollah upon a request by the Iranian government helped form and train AAH in 2005 to carry out attacks against the US-led coalition forces in Iraq. Khazali has reportedly pledged allegiance to Khamenei, and his group takes orders from Soleimani rather than the government in Baghdad.

Last year, Khazali said that his organization aimed to establish a “Shiite full moon” not a “Shiite crescent.” In a video published in the Arab media, he added that an alliance of Shiite forces across the region would be ready to achieve that goal by the time the hidden Shiite Imam Mahdi reappeared. He noted that the Shiite force would include the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi movement in Yemen, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and other Shiite militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.

A bill is also introduced in US Congress to designate AAH as a terrorist organization.